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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave

Monday, 1 March 2021

Hitler and the Habsburgs

 This is James Longo's study of Hitler's vendetta against the Austrian royals. It is sometimes forgotten that Hitler was an Austrian and brought up the Habsburg Empire's dying years. Although it did remind me of the classic line uttered by von Rundstedt in the film The Longest Day, "The Austrian Corporal'...".

The author takes us back to the end of the nineteenth century and describes both Hitler and Archduke Franz Ferdinand's lives. To portray them in parallel is a bit contrived, but they did bump into each other while Hitler was clearing the snow outside the Imperial Hotel in Vienna as they arrived for a ball. Later, when he returned to Vienna after the Anschluss, he stayed at that hotel and said:

"I resolved that night that someday I would come back to the Imperial Hotel and walk over the red carpet in that glittering interior where the Habsburgs danced. I didn’t know how or when, but I waited for this day and tonight I am here."

That night, the first two Austrians Hitler ordered arrested were Maximilian and Ernst Hohenberg, the sons of Franz Ferdinand. He knew how to hold a grudge! I also didn't realise that British Prime Minister Chamberlain ordered Ernst and his family should not be awarded an exit visa and that he should be expelled from the British Embassy. They both ended up in Dachau, the first Austrians to be sent there. Ernst was released five years later, a shadow of his former self.

It is somewhat ironic that Franz Ferdinand was himself something of an outcast from the Habsburg family. His marriage to Sophie Chotek was only allowed as a morganatic marriage, which meant she could never be the Empress. Her children were excluded from the succession, taking the surname Hohenberg. The formal oath of renunciation was undertaken in the Hofburg Palace in the presence of the family, "Among the blue-blooded Archdukes were murderers, pederasts, philanderers, wife beaters, sexual predators, and the Emperor’s recently exiled, infamous cross-dressing youngest brother." Ouch!

Hitler's grudge against the Habsburgs was their failure to recognise the importance of being German. The Habsburg Empire encompassed many ethnic groups, and managing these conflicts was a constant theme during the Empire's existence. Worst of all, Hitler viewed Franz Ferdinand's support for a federal solution as the ultimate betrayal. Hitler envisioned a German Reich that was racially pure and homogenous, the exact opposite of the tolerant, inclusive, multinational Habsburg Empire he loathed.

I hadn't fully appreciated the story of Hitler's early years in Vienna and the depths of poverty he had sunk to. Ironically relying on Jewish charities rather than seeking paid employment. His own work ethic was the opposite of many of Vienna's industrious immigrants, but in their success and his failure, he blamed Jews. He also dodged conscription, once being arrested in Munich and returned to Vienna on a police warrant. He was spared a spell in the Austro-Hungarian Army because the physical examination declared Hitler “unfit for combatant and auxiliary duties, too weak, and unable to bear arms.”

The end of the war did not end the misery for the Hohenbergs. Apart from losing a son on the Eastern Front, they were expelled from Czechoslovakia on racial grounds. Along with three million Germans, including Oskar Schindler, who rescued 1200 jews from the Holocaust. The family rebuilt a life in post-war Austria, with Max making a case for a constitutional monarchy. Eighteen miles of mourners lined the roads leading to his funeral. Aristocrats stood with Socialists. Atheist and agnostics walked alongside Catholic priests, nuns, and bishops. Dachau’s Jews, Roma, and Jehovah’s Witnesses offered prayers for his soul. Over one thousand people unable to be seated in the church quietly stood outside in the rain until the funeral Mass ended.

This is a fascinating story, much of it new to me. Primarily a sympathetic history of the later Habsburg family, with the malign influence of Hitler thrown in.

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